Archive for the ‘alien-egg’ Tag

Alien Egg (1981)   6 comments

You’re a biologist and the only non-engineer among the spaceship’s crew. To make yourself useful, you volunteered for the cryogenic deep freeze experiment. You’ve been on ice for fifty years, the time it has taken the crew to fly to the newly discovered planet Xepa, where they are to capture an alien egg and return it to Hoboken for analysis. Your time is up. The freezer lid opens automatically. You leap out, eager to take center stage away from all those engineers. But wait … something’s wrong. A deadly silence replaces the normal hustle and bustle of the crew’s activity. The entire crew has mysteriously disappeared. Surrounded by clickings and whirlings of instruments about which you know nothing, you try not to panic. You kick yourself for passing up that flight instrumentation course in Waco, Texas so you could attend the est retreat in Tahiti. Nevertheless, you conclude your only recourse is to try to complete the mission yourself, Thus, you must figure out how to suit up, exit the spacecraft, capture a specimen and return it to the ship’s lab for analysis. You can worry about how to get back home later!

— From the manual for Alien Egg

APX (Atari Program Exchange) was a program Atari had designed to sell user-written software: “all APX software is written by and for people just like you.”

1981 was still a year where “user-written” doesn’t entirely make sense as a separate concept from just software, since quite a few of the things being published “normally” were random folks sending software to publishers; that is, exactly the same thing that APX describes. I’m hoping they paid fine and it wasn’t just a way to eke out extra product for less money (I have no evidence either way).

Alien Egg is one of two adventure games by Robert Zdybel (the other is Castle, also from 1981) and the first game we’ve seen for this project only available on an Atari computer. He did go on to a long career after (including making Warbirds for the Atari Lynx, arguably one of the best games for the system) and is still currently at Electronic Arts.

I’m not sure whether Castle or Alien Egg came first; they both show up in the Summer 1981 Atari Program Exchange catalog (along with four text adventures by other authors) so I just picked one at random.

As the opening text I quoted earlier implies, you are on a spaceship where everyone has mysteriously disappeared, and your job, rather oddly, is to ignore all that, and go on with the mission: to find and retrieve an alien egg.

I’m going to start from the positive end first: this game had a nice sense of attitude. We’re still in the era where a lot of games feel drained of humor (due to having to pack so much in so little) but the author here felt free to make the narrator into a character of sorts.

This is crossed with a sense of unresolved mystery.

This is where the rest of the crew slept before their mysterious and untimely disappearance.
There are several bunks against one of the bulkheads. All of the are neatly made and empty.


This is where the Captain used to bunk before HIS mysterious and untimely disappearance.

Unfortunately, that’s about as far as my positive comments go. The parser was sheer suffering, and not necessarily for missing verbs. The verbs are even printed right in the manual.

Notice a complete lack of synonyms, like “TAKE” but no “GET”. At least the author was up-front about it.

No, the problem is the nouns.

The right thing to type here is — and I wish I was joking — TAKE SPACESUIT. It only gets referred to that if you leave and come back (the room switches to displaying in “brief” style).

The messages are almost as unhelpful as possible. Going in a direction that isn’t open yet just gets “SOMETHING IS IN YOUR WAY” without further detail what that something might be.

This game does have a context-sensitive HINT command (good) which sometimes has funny easter eggs (also good)

but the HINT command also sometimes acts like an EXAMINE command, and the intent by the author almost seems like it’s intended people use it as much as possible.

OK, let’s backtrack and go over the plot. You start off in the Astro-Navigation Room with a mysterious HATCH that won’t open but access to most of a ship, and find a TRIBBLE, CAP, SPACESUIT, and LAMP.

There’s also a PAMPHLET which indicates aliens are afraid of tribbles, and a SIGN indicating “ACCESS TO SECURE AREAS CONTROLLED BY VOICE COMMAND”.

One of the secure areas is reasonable to find using a command on a nearby sticker, and yields a locked chest. Further exploration yields horribly being stuck, unless one happens to do HINT in the Crew’s Bunks.

The Captain’s Cap belongs in his cabin.

Dropping the CAP in the cabin opens a secret compartment that yields a RECORDER.

WARNER is good enough to enter a computer room.

With the glove you can then MOVE ROD in the Reactor Control Room to shut off the nuclear reactor. This lets you finally OPEN HATCH and get to the bottom part of the ship, and outside. In the bottom of the ship you can find a KEY that unlocks the chest from earlier, yielding a BLASTER.

Then you can get on the surface of the planet, apply your newfound blaster to get past a rock and into a cave, and softlock yourself because you went down a bottomless pit.

Oops! Playing everything over again (or reloading a save state because modern conveniences, yay) and going a different direction, you find an alien and the titular egg.

Taking the egg back to the Biology Room and dropping it leads to victory.

Of course, as the manual says, “You can worry about how to get back home later!” So, later is … now? Hello? Where did everyone go? Is there instructions for flying this thing?

I do appreciate the game, feels, hm, written. (Compare with Miser, which is almost unarguably a better game, but had to be so crisp in its prose it lacked character.) Narration with attitude still wasn’t common for 1981, so that was enough to carry me through. I just wasn’t a fan of suffering to communicate.

READ BOOK only works in the Billards Room (it’s a book on Zero-G Billiards, but you can’t read it elsewhere, because … ???).

(Bonus: just like Miser, this game doesn’t have an inventory limit either! Two in a row! When previously there were almost none! Weird how that happens.)

Posted March 5, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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